Stone Cold is a dark psychological thriller set in The English Cotswolds.
In the aggressive world of advertising, competition is fierce. When someone tries to sabotage Charles Dean’s company, he is determined to find out who and handle it on his own. Mara Mann has other ideas, and her own reasons for bringing him down. Her discovery leads to her into the dangerous world of vice president Reid Dalton, and to a forgotten grave.
May 15th, 2008
No one knew Trent Oakes would kill a man before the day ended. On a cold Thursday in May, when the London-born father of one set off by himself for the rugged Cuillin Mountains in the remote Isle of Skye, even he didn’t know for certain. Anything could go wrong. He had never killed a man before and the thought consumed him. With his target somewhere up in front, he pushed on, focused his energy on the task ahead. The opportunity to get the man alone in such an isolated setting might never come again, although the murder would never make them even.
Tired and cold, Oakes tracked his victim for hours on the challenging Black Cuillin, heart and legs pumping. The adrenaline rush numbed his pain and provided the strength he needed. Weeks of training had brought him to this moment, to this harsh, unforgiving place, and he felt ready for the battle, like a soldier preparing for war; his own personal war, waged five years ago. His thigh muscles burned and he breathed hard, closing in on Shaw Pearce with every judicious step. He knew the risks in climbing alone, embraced the danger, and navigated the sharp ridges with care. He paused on a few occasions to catch his breath, drink some water, and take in the magnificent view he would never see again.
People came to the island from all over the country and further afield; some lured by the beauty and the slower pace of life, others fooled by the glossy brochures designed to entice. Some tourists viewed the Isle of Skye as a place filled with mystery and romance, the ideal place to live. They fell in love with it and followed their dreams, abandoned their own miserable lives and indulged a misguided perception of the Celtic lifestyle. Oakes laughed at these people. He knew from personal experience that a shit life did not improve just by moving it to another location. Weather extremes, the exposure, a lack of amenities, and a tight-knit community took away a lot of the magic of this beautiful isle, and he longed to take care of business and leave.
Oakes had talked to the local barman the night before his hike. He learned how climbers went missing, tumbled down the mountainside, laid injured for days until the exposure killed them and rescuers eventually recovered the bodies. The mountains forgave no one, and he accepted the risk.
An avid outdoorsman and an experienced mountaineer, Shaw Pearce had scrambled for his life on the rough rock when Oakes caught up with him and the rage took over. Oakes showed him no mercy and felt no remorse as he watched Pearce cling to life by the tips of his fingers, then lose his grip and fall to his death without ever understanding why. The man’s ignorance fuelled Oakes’s rage, made the killing easy, and he walked away satisfied.
Two days later, the mountain rescue and recovery team found his body in a deep gully, zipped him up in a body bag, and brought him back up the mountain, by which time Trent Oakes was already back in England and waiting for the news to break.
Why was Shaw Pearce on the mountain alone? Who knew he was going climbing on the Black Cuillin? How did he lose his footing and slip? All good questions asked by the reporter, the police, and the family of the newly departed, Oakes thought. Pearce had known what he was doing and he thought he knew best. He wore proper gear and took no unnecessary chances, and so he felt confident climbing alone, especially somewhere like the Cuillin, where the dense gabbro provided a terrific grip for rock climbers.
Emily Pearce, Shaw’s widow, knew all that. She refused to believe his death was accidental and, from the outset, suspected her husband had been murdered. Yet she, along with his friends, offered no reason for the murder, presented no possible motive at all.
Oakes watched the charade play out on the various news channels until he could stand it no longer. “Bullshit.” He slammed down his bottle of beer and screamed at the television, turned the set off, and hurled the remote control at the wall. It bounced off and lay in broken pieces on his living room floor. In the days following the murder, Oakes watched televised interviews with the widow, heard Emily Pearce repeat her claim of her husband’s murder, and listened to her bleat on about his innocence and what a great man, husband, father, friend he had been. Like every good widow should, he supposed, Emily vowed to uncover the truth behind her husband’s death. As Oakes watched, he believed in her sincerity, even admired it, thought she might find the truth if she tried hard enough. He welcomed it. She should know the truth behind what her husband had done.
The plummet down the Scottish mountainside was easy to plan, and he’d had plenty of time to think about his strategy. Days and weeks turned into months at Peacehaven Hospital. Oakes had spent endless days locked in his room under constant observation, the shrieks and cries from other patients screaming through his mind, echoing the sounds in his heart. The psychiatrists could watch him for as long as they wanted, for as long as they deemed necessary, before he convinced them he no longer presented a risk to himself. He had behaved, obeyed all of their instructions, and resisted none of the numerous tests to which they subjected him. A quiet determination kept him sane. He sounded normal when he spoke, rational, even remorseful for his suicide attempt. They could prod and poke, do anything they wanted, except read his mind, and eventually he convinced them, gained his freedom, and returned to the outside world.
When they released him, he put his plans in motion, listened, and plotted. He stayed out of trouble, worked out hard and increased his fitness, equipped himself with the right gear, bought an accurate topographical map, and prepared for his trip to the misty isle. People believed he had advanced beyond the most difficult stage of the grieving process and left the darkness behind.
For four years, he’d waited for this moment. The planning was easy; the plummet down the Black Cuillin was harder to fake. Under pressure to resolve The Mystery On The Mountain, as the reporters dubbed it, the police opened a full investigation into the death of Shaw Pearce. The usual mess followed, and cranks called in. They reported false sightings. Some said they saw a tussle on the mountain, witnessed a fight in a bar, a secretive meeting between Pearce and a mystery woman. As the public complicated the investigation, Oakes breathed out, let himself relax, and enjoyed his victory. Police and the Pearce family appealed for genuine witnesses to come forward. None did.
Local interest lingered on the murder for a while. Before his death, Shaw Pearce had shared a partnership interest with a prominent businessman in the aggressive world of advertising. Senka Marketing enjoyed a sound reputation and healthy profits. Many believed Shaw was the reason, the man behind the company’s success, so his decision to sell his interest in the company caused the local tongues to wag, especially after his death. The theories flourished. Did a competitor take him out? Did Charles Dean order a hit on his former business partner? Oakes rubbed his hands together and wanted that rumor to grow legs, but then Dean provided a solid alibi. The lucky cat used up another life, always found a way to survive.
Dean should have been the first one to die. A last-minute business trip saved his life, and he went on living, breathing air he didn’t deserve. Shaw Pearce took his place. Until the second he pushed him off the mountain, Oakes hadn’t known for sure if he would do it. When the rage took over and consumed him, his mind filled with hate, drowned all rationale, and blocked out all reason. A drum beat in his head. His hands ached to maim, to kill, to unleash the same horror he had suffered on his enemy. Adrenaline and grief rushed through him, twisted his mind, at which point nothing could stop him. At this stage, Pearce’s chance for survival ran out. Oakes could not allow him to live, not after the things he’d done. After killing Pearce, something inside Oakes changed. He let go of the fear, the anxiety, and the doubt. He gave into the rage and let it control him. After Pearce, he knew taking out the others would be easy.
Public interest in the story declined. Other drama replaced it. People forgot about Shaw Pearce. They moved on, clamped their attention onto the next big news items, lapped up the performances like they were live acts in a stage show, a never-ending dramatic production. All moved on except Emily Pearce. She never gave up, even when the investigation led nowhere and the coroner recorded his verdict of accidental death. Emily Pearce waged her own war and vowed to fight the verdict, determined to uncover the truth behind the death of her husband.
Instead of the screams of the mentally ill, the silence of his apartment now tore through Trent Oakes. The hush and the stillness deafened him, caused the throb in his head, the rush of heat to his face, the pounding in his chest. Sweat built under his shirt, and the muscles tightened in his shoulders. His thoughts returned to death and destruction. Three of the four men he blamed for what happened remained alive. Liars, cheaters, murderers. Cruel, callous bastards who all deserved to die. The rage within him grew, mounting by the minute. They must all repay the debt, but it would never be enough. An eye for an eye was no recompense for the damage they had caused. His loss could not be measured; therefore, there would never be equal justice.
He thought about the four elevated executives, leaders, and chiefs, full of self-importance and arrogance, riding high on their inflated salaries and pompous egos. Every Saturday evening at nine o’clock, these merciless assholes met for a drink. Each week, they sat in the same booth, ordered their usual rounds, and talked about similar things: sales; net profit; sex; and themselves, the most important members of the company. Men so predictable he wanted to laugh and thank them for making his task easy.
Like Pearce, the other three were married, Scott Wilson for the second time. His first wife left him after she discovered his affair, and he’d just married the other woman. Congratulations. Enjoy it while you can. In the kitchen of his East Hanney home, Trent Oakes raised his glass and toasted his own success, let the whisky slide down his throat, then raised it again in salute to the three bastards left: Jordan Stone, Scott Wilson, and Charles Dean.